One of the big challenges in being a Christian is understanding God’s love. We read the Old Testament and hear many stories of the pain and suffering of God’s people. Slavery, lost in the desert, conquered by foreign kingdoms. And these are the sufferings AFTER God had chosen His people. What about being banished from the Garden or drowned in the Flood because they weren’t on the Ark? Does this sound like a God that loves us no matter what?
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (you can read the entire passage below), we hear even more about pain and suffering, because a young son took his inheritance early, and wasted it on sinful living. Eventually, he found himself eating pig slop that he “shared” with the pigs he was hired to clean. He had sunk to the lowest point of his life, all the while his older brother and father were back home in the comfort of servants and wealth. His father never came looking for him. Does this sound like a God that loves us no matter what?
It isn’t surprising that such stories confuse our understanding of God’s love. Each story in the Old and New Testament express God’s love in a profound way, but nonetheless, each story expresses that God loves us no matter what!
Take the Parable of the Prodigal Son as an example. The father never stopped watching for his son to return home, “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15.20) He didn’t stop at that. “The father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15.22-24)
It didn’t matter what the younger son did while he was away. In fact, the father never even asks. It was enough that the son returned home, leaving the sinful life behind him. If the younger son had remained away, living in sin and eating pig slop, even though his father loved him, he would never have felt the loving embrace and forgiveness of his father.
Christ told us this story for a reason. He knows we are living in sin. He knows that we are sometimes afraid to return home and confess our sins to Him. But He also knows that no matter what we may have done, He will never stop loving us. As we prepare for Great Lent to begin in a few weeks, I pray we will each consider how we can return home to Christ, and even His Church if we have been away for a while, to feel the loving embrace and forgiveness of God. The only thing we need to do, is leave the sin behind and have the courage to come home.
The Lord said this parable: "There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his belly with the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.' And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" Luke 15.11-32